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Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying

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"NOT THE BEES. Also, Neal Adams? Has never seen what a bee looks like. It’s like someone just described the idea of a bee to him in really abstract terms and he took his best shot."
Laura Hudson, "The Complete and Utter Insanity of Batman Odyssey"

Related to Artistic License – Arachnids, Somewhere, an Ornithologist Is Crying, Artistic License – Paleontology, this trope covers grievous errors concerning insects.

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One common example is humans imposing inappropriate gender roles on insects. Often, the colonies of eusocial hymenopteran insects (bees, wasps, and ants) are depicted in cartoons as having male workers, whereas in Real Life, all the workers are female in almost all species (there are a few ant species with males that assist the female workers, but they are a very small minority of species). The "no male workers" rule applies only to eusocial insects in the order Hymenoptera, however. Termites are eusocial and they have both male and female workers. Another example is the appearance of a blood-sucking male mosquito. Only female mosquitoes suck blood (this doesn't apply to other types of bloodsucking flies, however).

Perhaps the most egregious example, though, is drawing insects with four legs instead of the correct six. This is kindergarten science, people! Kindergarten!

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There's also the size issue. As in you can't make a functioning insect that is big enough for a human to ride upon/be eaten by/etc., but that never stopped anyone.

Subtrope of Artistic License – Biology. Supertrope of Insect Gender-Bender, Four-Legged Insect, and Stock Beehive. Compare the above-mentioned Artistic License – Arachnids, which could also qualify as a sub-trope. See also Funny Animal Anatomy.


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Examples:

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    List of common errors 
  • Insects, crustaceans and myriapods all do not have jaws that open and close like a vertebrate's, and they do not have teeth or tongues like we do, though stylization of cartoon insect mouths to a jagged beak can be partly forgiven due to the labrum and paired maxillae sort of resembling one (more info here). Even depictions with proper mouthparts often get their appearance wrong, though. To list just two examples: spider fangs always point downwards, not inwards towards each other like insect mandibles, and aren't used to suck the juices from prey (they have a tiny mouth-hole which is what regurgitates enzymes and does the sucking afterwards); and while a mosquito's proboscis is syringe-shaped (though partially covered by a sheathe), it's certainly not positioned anywhere near where the nose would be on a vertebrate.
  • An insect's limbs are attached to the second of their three body segments (the thorax). They are not proportioned or configured like anything remotely resembling a human or a dog. Additionally, insects are almost always portrayed as having legs that taper to a point. In reality, their legs always end in a tarsus (equivalent to the toes on vertebrates) which usually sports two claws; it's just that the tarsi are so tiny in many cases that it's hard to see them with the naked eye. The only arthropods that have pointed tips to the legs in real life are crustaceans.
  • What most people refer to as a "wild" beehive is actually a mix between an antique bee skep and a hornet's nest. Actual wild beehives look like this or this. See Stock Beehive for more on the subject.
    • Also, there's the common mistake of calling wasps "bees", or mistaking hornets for other kinds of wasps. Referring to wasps as bees would be like calling every primate a "chimpanzee" - phylogenetically, all bees are wasps, not the other way around. (And so are ants - biology is very confusing.) Hornets, meanwhile, are also a specific type of wasp, but are distinguished from other vespine wasps by the relatively large top margin of the head and by the rounded segment of the abdomen just behind the waist.
    • Not to mention depicting all wasps and hornets as honey-makers. Bees make honey because they gather pollen from flowers, and while wasps and hornets have diets that can vary from nectar-feeding to omnivorous to outright predatory, they generally do not produce honey. (That said, some species of wasps and hornets do make honey, but it is inedible.)
  • An appalling number of films, stories, and Urban Legends attribute a parasitoid reproductive strategy — i.e. Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong — to arthropods that don't do any such thing, purely for Body Horror's sake. In reality, only some species of insects (mainly wasps and flies) breed that way. In fiction, it's often associated with beetles.
  • Very often in fiction when a cockroach is needed a Madagascar hissing cockroach is used as a substitute, as they are larger than the local roaches and fairly placid. As the name suggests, they can only be found in the wild in Madagascar. This isn't limited to roaches, either: every scuttling insect that's not an ant may be played by a "hisser" in a pinch. Likewise, maggots, caterpillars, and earthworms (which aren't even arthropods) are commonly played by mealworms, which are beetle larvae cheaply available at any pet store.
  • Pretty much everyone, in fiction and out of it, refers to every insect (and arthropods in general) at some point or another as a bug. In entomology, a bug only refers to the order Hemiptera, aka "true bugs", which contains insects like aphids and cicadas. The common identifier of a "true bug" is a rigid proboscis for feeding.
  • Praying mantises will usually be drawn having their arms ending at the tibia, lacking the tarsus at the end which is used for walking. The popularly cited "fact" that they eat their mates is also false, at least in the wild - the recorded cases of such have almost always happened in captivity, complete with confined spaces and artificial conditions.
  • Insects are hardly ever portrayed having the correct number of eyes, usually having the standard two. Most insects have five eyes, albeit the two main ones are usually much more noticeable.
  • Bees are invariably portrayed as repeatedly stinging. Worker honeybees have barbed stingers, so if they sting once their stinger will get stuck and get ripped off as the bee frees itself, which will resulting in the bee's death.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto:
    • A filler arc brings us "bees" that are very obviously hornets (although this is a translation error since the word 'hachi' can refer to either bees or wasps), a 12-foot beetle with a trunk (it trumpets like an elephant, too) and cockroaches which don't look or move like cockroaches.
    • Pain's "centipede" summon has what's a snake head with fangs tacked onto the sides.
  • Digimon with insect attributes usually have the right number of limbs (though oddly, they are often bipedal when not flying), but they also have vertebrate jaws, are definitely not covered in real chitin, and can grow to preposterous sizes. Justified in-universe as being the result of how data (and therefore the laws of physics) work in the Digital World, but it gets egregious when they enter the real world in any particular series. Rule of Cool is very much invoked.
  • The manga Arachnid greatly exaggerates insect qualities for the sake of justifying the superpowers of the assassins.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Sabagebu!, where the Survival Club's adviser Ena Sakura cracks open a hornet's nest thinking there'd be honey inside, which The Narrator outright points out hornets do not produce honey as they are carnivorous.

    Comic Books 
  • In one arc of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin adds an earthworm to his insect collection because "worms are bugs". Earthworms are from a separate phylum (Annelida) than insects (Arthropoda). Entomologists may be spared some weeping by the fact that Calvin may not actually think worms are bugs; he's just desperate to fill out his collection with ANYTHING (he has only two actual insects; other items include the worm, a smashed spider, and "a piece of lint that looks like a bug") before class starts. At least it's better than in a later arc where he thinks bats are bugs (in this one Hobbes tries to point out Calvin's error early on, and as soon as Calvin starts reading his report in class the entire class yells in unison "Bats aren't bugs!").
    • Justified in both cases. Calvin is six years old and, while he is certainly intelligent, he doesn't pay attention in class unless it involves dinosaurs. It's not surprising that his understanding of entomology would be a mite unreliable.

    Films — Animated 
  • Antz has male worker and soldier ants.
  • A Bug's Life featured ants being bullied by grasshoppers. Real Life ants are extremely aggressive in defending their nests, and any grasshopper dumb enough to hang around an anthill would get swarmed, dismembered and eaten. And the ants had four legs, while oddly enough the grasshoppers had the accurate six.
    • At the "tough bugs" bar a male-voiced mosquito orders a "bloody mary, o-positive," sucks up the large drop of blood, and promptly passes out.
  • Bee Movie has male worker bees and a blood-sucking male mosquito named Mooseblood. The insects have four legs. The bees also have parents. This is however called out in the court scene to invoke getting stung by the leads best friend to win over the court. Said bee is male and survives by getting a transplant.
  • Averted in Winnie the Pooh where we actually get to see Pooh being stuck inside what appears to be the only accurate depiction of a wild beehive (a wall of honeycombs dangling over a pool of honey inside a hollow tree trunk) at the end of The Honey Tree. Played straight in later stories, however, where all of the bees are now shown to be living in hornet nests.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
    • Later on in the movie, the characters are attacked by a massive swarm of ants. Indy calls them 'Siafu'; which is a native name for Driver ants, which only live in Africa. The story is set in South America, which does have terrifying carnivorous ants, but these are members of a different subfamily of ants. Possibly justified, as Indy could have encountered African siafu before and just called the New World equivalents by the first name that popped into his head.
    • Also, the ants are shown dragging people into their nests and forming a biological ladder out of ants just to get to a character hanging from a tree.
      • Driver ants actually do form structures out of worker ants (like bridges or the bivouac, for instance). They just can't do it quite that fast, or detect a prey item from that far away. Dragging the Giant Mook back to the nest is pure Hollywood, but using the real driver ant method (slicing off pieces of flesh and carrying those back to the nest) would have made it rather difficult to avoid an R rating.
      • The Brazilian translation fixed the name for an actual Amazon ant — instead of "Siafu", "Saúva" - but raised the problem of it being a leafcutter, not carnivorous like an army ant.
  • Mimic makes this a Zigzagging Trope. On the one hand, they correctly note that the lack of lungs limits insect size (the insect oxygenation system was better suited to the O2-rich Carboniferous, which is why bugs got so much bigger back then). On the other hand, they fail to note that the exoskeleton is the other limiter on insect size. But then they correctly state that social insects use pheromones to identify each other...and then later make the mistake of the Judas Breed colony having no queen, but they do at least show them having a fertile male (termites also have a "king", and the Judas is part termite).
  • Surprisingly averted in the remake The Fly (1986) involving a mutant Jeff Goldblum/fly hybrid. Like a fly he can scale walls with his hairy sticky feet and must eat his food in liquid form (as flies cannot chew) by vomiting on it. In David Cronenberg's commentary, he says he was aware of the fallacies of the original movie (such as a fly's eye view being depicted as a kaleidoscope) even as a junior entomologist watching it in 1958.
  • My Girl apparently featured honeybees living inside what appears to be a hornet's nest.
  • The Mummy has huge swarms of flesh-eating scarab beetles. Real scarab beetles eat dung. They're also not so big that you have to shoot them or use a flamethrower on them. According to the DVD Commentary, director Stephen Sommers heard that long ago, some people thought that flesh-eating scarabs existed, and thought it was a cool idea for the film, so more of a Genre Throwback idea than anything else.
  • Jurassic Park: The mosquito in amber from which the dinosaur DNA is allegedly extracted is not only a member of a species that eats only nectar (and thus wouldn't have any dinosaur blood in it), but the individual is male (and thus wouldn't have any dinosaur blood in it anyway).
  • The 2005 TV movie Mansquito (alternatively called Mosquito Man) lets you know what you're in for right from the titles. The monster in the movie is a mutant hybrid between a mosquito and a human, a la The Fly (1986). The human in question is male, yet as Mansquito, he goes around killing people and drinking their blood. Granted, whatever radiation accident that can transform a human into a bipedal insect might reasonably also be able to swap around secondary sexual characteristics, granting the eponymous monster the anatomy of a female mosquito without spontaneously also changing his preferred pronouns. Given that he loses the ability to speak early in the transformation, his own feelings on the matter are never addressed.

    Literature 
  • Averted in The Berenstain Bears, where wild beehives are correctly portrayed as walls of honeycomb inside hollow trees.
  • The giant bugs in Grasshopper Jungle are similar to praying mantises, and they are described as being very fast and strong. In reality, the exoskeleton should have made heavy and slow, and the giant bugs shouldn't have been capable of surviving, since a bug's breathing mechanism only works because they're small.
    • There's also the case of how these creatures could bring The End of the World as We Know It, since the American continent is essentially a giant island, and praying mantises are notoriously bad fliers and swimmers (they can infect human to carry their eggs, but the events of the novel take place in a scarcely populated, almost desert town), so this is likely a case of Unreliable Narrator.
  • The bug-like aliens from Ender's Game and its sequels are a nice subversion, at least in most regards. Their societies are very female oriented, including by using female pronouns to refer to to a multi-gendered group (like humans use the male ones). They also evolved an internal skeleton, which allowed them to grow much larger.
  • In The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School, protagonist Amy is a trainee superhero with a moth motif, under the name Kentish Glory. In the course of the book, she gets discouraged about the results of being for justice and fair play in an unjust and unfair world, and tries reinventing herself as a grim avenger called Death's-head Hawk, with an outfit that's all black except for the death's-head emblem. Actual death's-head hawk moths, as seen for instance on the poster for The Silence of the Lambs, have a fairly bright brown and yellow coloration. What makes this interesting is that Amy is an entomologist herself, and has been established as being picky about the accuracy of the color schemes of herself and her Moth Club teammates, so this may be deliberate on the part of the author to show that she's not thinking straight. (It may also be significant that an accurate brown-and-yellow Death's-head Hawk costume wouldn't look a great deal different from her usual — yellow and brown — Kentish Glory costume.) Alternately, the author may have confused the death's head hawk moth with the peppered moth: a species famous for having evolved darker pigmentation during the Industrial Revolution for camouflage against soot-stained tree bark, then re-evolved paler colors once anti-pollution laws - not yet introduced in Amy's school days - cleaned up the air and tree trunks.
  • In Reaper Man, a newly-emerged mayfly converses with a several-hours-senior mayfly about mortality. It's depicted as a very young insect seeking guidance from a very old one, as per the accelerated time frame of flies that are born, grow old, and die in less than a day. But actual mayflies have multi-year lifespans: they just spend the vast majority of their lives as water-dwelling, wingless nymphs. It'd be more biologically-accurate (albeit less symbolic) to portray them as deathbed advice from a dying elder to a not-yet-decrepit one.
  • In Animorphs #9: The Secret, the team morphs into termites as part of an infiltration of a Yeerk facility and are then dominated by the telepathic voice of the termite queen. Cassie has to kill the queen so they can break free and continue the mission. In actual fact, with eusocial insects (termites, ants, bees), the queen is just the mother of the colony. She doesn't actively control every aspect of the other bugs' lives in this way.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Of all shows for this to have happened on, Kratts' Creatures screwed it up by showing the view through the critter-cam goggles as a bunch of tiny pictures of the subject when set to "dragonfly". The current thinking is that the images are combined into a blurry composite image.
  • In an early episode of CSI, Catherine is crawling under a collapsed building and comes across a large (at least an inch and a half or so) cockroach crawling on a fallen beam. Fast forward to later in the episode where the insect is supposedly identified as a powderpost beetle.. Cockroaches and beetles are in entirely different orders and the cockroach shown on the screen was at least 10 times the size of a powderpost beetle (which is about 1/8 of an inch and much thinner). Using mammals, this would be similar to saying that a lion and a rat are comparable.
    • This is really a bad case of the writers not doing their research, since though entomologists don't always know every single species outside of the family they specialize in, an entomologist like Grissom would have at least likely known enough to tell those two apart. Alternately, as roaches are much easier for a production crew to obtain than powderpost beetles, it's probably just Terrifying Pet Store Rat at work.
  • A suspect in Castle's season 2 finale claimed he spent several weeks in Afghanistan with fire ants crawling on his privates. Fire ants are native to the Americas, not Afghanistan. Possibly a subversion, however, as the guy was only pretending to be a spy, and probably wasn't an entomologist.
    • Could also be Translation Convention, as ants that sting are fairly common worldwide, and "fire ant" would be a plausible English rendering of a local Afghani variety's name.
  • The Big Bang Theory gave a rather interesting example, in that Entomologists would be crying over an Entomologist crying. Unlike how most scientists are usually portrayed with a sliver of respect, the resident Entomologist is depicted as a grouch whose job is so unimportant that he's being evicted. (Read: the entomologist is Lewis Black being Lewis Black.) In addition, the "dung beetle" he shows is a Hissing Cockroach and he has a number of Pinktoe Tarantulas in an embarrassingly improper setup.
    • Also, the only living specimens he has in his office are arachnids and millipedes, which are not insects. Not the harshest transgression, but it wouldn't have been that big a stretch to call him an "arthropodologist" instead.
  • In The X-Files episode "Brand X", the Monster of the Week is a mutant species of tobacco beetle (they even call it by its proper scientific name, Lasioderma serricorne), but the show used the much larger (and easier to get large numbers of) mealworm beetle.note 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In Ring of Honor, The Briscoes nicknamed CHIKARA's UltraMantis Black, who started his career as UltraMantis with the Red Baron "Part Insect, Part Superhero" and whose name and original image were influenced by the Japanese TV series UltraMan, "Black Pelican," suggesting they are unable to tell the difference between an insect-themed mask and a bird-themed one.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! shows Traptrix Atrax's pet/true form (it's somewhat ambiguous which it is) as a giant spider using a standard orb weaver web... except that she's named for a genus of the Australian Funnel-Web Spider, a trapdoor spider that doesn't use a trapdoor on its burrow, instead favoring a system of triplines around its hole. It's not a translation issue, either, as its Japanese name is "Atra no Kowakuma", referring to either the same genus or the larger Atracinae subfamily it belongs to.

    Toys 
  • Skansen Beanie Kids (not to be confused with Beanie Babies) released a Beanie Kid called Sting the Mosquito Bear. Aside from the fact that Sting looks absolutely nothing like a mosquito and more like an acid trip fairy, mosquitoes don't sting, they bite and suck blood (though a case can be made that 'Bite the Mosquito Bear' sounds more like an instruction than a name, and 'Suck the Mosquito Bear' just sounds wrong).

    Video Games 
  • Fallout: The series features various insects growing to sizes that would not be physically possible, regardless of their amount of radiation exposure, along with gaining magnificent superpowers, such as being able to breathe fire. Fallout is supposed to be a parody fueled by radiation.
    • The fire ants are an accidental mutation via meddling by Mad Scientist. It is explained away with the venom glands producing flammable venom that is spark-ignited by the ant clicking its mandibles together. Since when do biological exoskeletons produce sparks by friction? Even more amusing, the Mad Scientist calls the process pyrosis—that is to say, the medical term for heartburn.
  • In Pokémon, out of at least two dozen arthropod-based Pokémon (as of Generation V), exactly two even have the right number of limbs (ladybug-based Ledyba and Ledian have six, the caterpillar-based ones vary, the rest of the insects have four, and arachnid-based ones have six). But then, real arthropods don't generally grow to human size, either (Scyther), nor can they shoot their stingers at you (Beedrill). Nor do their shed shells come to life (Shedinja).
    • Not only this but we have many arthropods that fall as Bug-type. We have spiders, scorpions, centipedes, hermit crabs, trilobites and even some kind of rock mollusk. Strangely, the Dwebble line (based on hermit crabs) are Bug-type, but the Krabby line (based on sand bubbler crabs) aren't.
  • Warcraft III has mutated, beetle-like characters in the Crypt Lords (who can summon four legged beetles with mandibles bigger than a human arm).
  • In Castlevania: Mirror of Fate, the Lady of the Crypt is a gigantic insect-dragon...thing that is killed by Trevor, who tricks it into smashing open the castle gates. In Simon/Alucard's storylines (chronologically after Trevor's), the gates are still jammed open by the massive insect's skeleton. Insect's...skeleton? Looks like the Lady was more dragon than insect after all.
  • Minecraft's "Buzzy Bees" updatenote  introduces bees to the game. Unlike real world bees, in which only a queen bee can produce offspring, any two bees can be bred with flowers. Additionally, there is no larva stage; like other breedable Minecraft mobs, baby bees are simply smaller versions of the adults.
  • House Flipper: How do you take care of a cockroach infestation? By sucking them up into a vacuum cleaner, of course! Don't worry about all the roaches that are surely still in the walls, or the many hundreds of eggs they can lay. Most likely this was done to facilitate the Adjustable Censorship for katsaridaphobes, which changes the roaches into shards of broken glass instead. If you had to choose one action for both things, vacuuming roaches is at least slightly more plausible than spraying poison on glass shards.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold has Batman trapped in a tank with giant Atlas moths which have mandibles... and are trying to attack/eat him. In actuality, Atlas moths not only do not have mandibles, they have no mouths. At all. Because when they are in the moth stage they don't feed. They survive off the fat reserves they built up as caterpillars and die when it runs out.
    • And no adult moth eats fabric. They lay their eggs in closets (or did, before the invention of mothballs), and the larval moths chewed on the fabric.
  • The second episode of Dink, the Little Dinosaur had a fully-grown insect hatch out of a clearly-reptilian egg.
  • Averted in the bees episode of The Magic School Bus: the hive is shown correctly. The show being what it is, they would've had no excuse for getting it wrong.
  • An episode of Brandy & Mr. Whiskers had army ants that live in anthills and eat sugar. Army ants are known for not forming permanent nests like other ants and instead continuously roam in swarms, not to mention they are carnivorous.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy's Big Picture Show averts this by having Double D identify fireflies as nocturnal luminescent beetles.
  • Bob's Burgers: In the episode "Bed & Breakfast", a supposed entomologist attempts to entice his beetles to breed by using pheromones supposedly produced by the "queen" beetle to attract males. There are no known beetle species that live in eusocial colonies with "queens".

    Other 
  • Lampshaded and discussed annually at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana's Insect Fear Film Festival, at which the Entomology Graduate Student Association displays movies with examples of this trope, then lets viewers handle living examples of the featured arthropods, while explaining what the films got wrong.


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